Chris Wray: What I Enjoyed Playing in February 2019…

This is the February entry for my series where I post five games I enjoyed playing in the past month that I didn’t have time to do full reviews of.  As always, I limit it to five titles, of which there’s a combination of old and new games.

I recently vowed to play the older games in my collection more often, so this list skews towards some classics. 

DEDUCE OR DIE

I love deduction games, and Deduce or Die is billed as the world’s most challenging deduction game.  Designed by Larry Levy (a writer on this site), the game is available as a print and play, although really all you need are three standard decks of playing cards and some of the deduction sheets from BGG. 

The players are lawyers stranded on a desert island, and there has been a murder they must solve.  Two cards are removed from the deck, which consists of A-9 in three suits, and the rest are distributed evenly to the players.  The two cards out of the game point to a third card, and the goal is to find the player hiding that card, who is the murderer.  (That’s a synopsis: there’s a bit more to it than that.)  Each round, a player flips three cards from the other deck, which has two sets of the cards in the game.  Using these cards, they can ask questions from other players that will help them deduce what they’re holding. 

I played it this weekend, and it certainly lives up to the challenge portrayed by its reputation.  But even though the game was a fun mental challenge, it plays quickly, and there’s very little downtime.  It’s certainly one of the better deduction games I’ve played, and I admire Larry’s creation.  I’m looking forward to many more plays!

DOPPELT SO CLEVER (TWICE AS CLEVER)

Doppelt so clever (a.k.a. Twice as Clever) is the sequel to last year’s hit roll ‘n write, Ganz schon clever, which I reviewed back in July.  The main mechanic is largely the same, but rather it is what you mark off that has changed.

For the uninitiated, the game comes with six dice.  The player then picks one of these dice to use, marking the corresponding space on his score sheet. But the choice of dice isn’t without consequences: any dice showing fewer pips must be set aside on a silver platter, and the player won’t be able to use them for the rest of his turn. He or she then rerolls the remaining available dice and repeats the process until either (a) the player has used three dice, or (b) no available dice remain. The twist is that the players who are off turn are keenly interested in what makes it onto the silver platter, because they can each use one of those dice. It’s a simple way to add interactivity.

The game makes subtle but meaningful changes to its successor, primarily what is available ot mark off.  Players now have a row, for instance, that descends from the highest number they roll to the lowest, with no option to reset.  There’s another area that lets you use multiple dice at once.  And yet another area requires you to pair rolls, only getting points for the difference. 

And there is another new mechanic: players can now earn unlocks which allow them to return dice from the silver platter.

I loved Ganz, and I love Doppelt too.  I’d certainly recommend teaching new players the predecessor first, as the new version is more complicated.  But the gameplay here is highly addictive, and I know that over the next several months I’ll be chucking the dice in Wolfgang Warsch’s latest collection with great joy. 

PUEBLO

Pueblo is an abstract strategy game by Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer in which the players are builders trying to obscure their trademark stones in the structure they’re building.

The BGG description is particularly apt: “Each player gets a number of building blocks in their own color, and also some neutral colored blocks (1 fewer than the colored). Starting with the odd colored block, the player places it on the board, and then gets to move the “Chieftain” around the outer track surrounding the board. If the Chieftain can look straight across and see any colored blocks, those players gain points — but points are bad. And when the Chieftain lands on the corners of the track, he looks down on the Pueblo from above, and all visible player’s blocks gain them more points. Now, on each subsequent pair of turns, you have a choice of a colored block and a neutral block. Once all players’ blocks are played, the Chieftain makes one last trip around the board, players gaining points all along the way. The player who has gained the fewest number of points is the Master Builder and the winner of the game.”  A variant in the box — which I highly recommend — is to keep playing after the Chieftain makes his last trip around the board by requiring each player to remove a block, scoring as at the start of the game. 

Pueblo received an IGA nomination when it was released back in 2002-2003, but unfortunately, it has fallen out of print in recent years.  I recently introduce it to a game group, and they fell in love.  It is tense, think-y, and eye-popping.  The game is remarkably easy to teach — I can show people how to play in just a few minutes — yet I find it very challenging to master.

SAN MARCO

Designed by Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum, San Marco is an area-control game driven by cards which are allocated via a “I split, you choose” game mechanic.  It takes place in Venice in its heyday, and the game board is divided into the six districts of Venice, which is split up by the Canal Grande and other canals.  Each district has two prestige values, and when that district scores, the player with the most aristocrats in that district receives the prestige points equal to the higher number.  The player with the second-most aristocrats receives the lower number.  All other players get no points.  The game is played over three passages, and the player with the highest score wins.

I rediscovered San Marco this past weekend, and I’ve played it twice more since.  San Marco is a great family game, and I admire its brilliant use of the “I split, you choose” game mechanic, which is cleverly mixed with area control to create high player interactivity.  

San Marco won the International Gamers Award back in 2002.  It is currently out of print, but here’s hoping for a reprint so the next generation of gamers can enjoy this brilliant design. 

UNDERWATER CITIES

In Underwater Cities, a medium-heavy game from Vladimír Suchý and Delicious Games, players take on the role of scientists “nominated due to the overpopulation of Earth to establish the best and most livable underwater areas possible.”  The game will be released in the U.S. soon by Rio Grande Games. 

The main mechanic is reminiscent of worker placement: there are several spaces on the board, and on your turn, you play a card down in front of you and put one of your tiles on one of those spaces, making it unavailable for the rest of the round.  Some spaces give resources, others allow you to build structures, others allow you to get cards that help with scoring, and so on.  If the card you played matches the color of the space you used, you also get to use the power of the card.  Your cards can give you resources, permanent effects, or even additional actions, making for a bit of an engine-building aspect.  The main mechanic is quite simple, yet the game is, at first glance, decently deep.

Underwater Cities was one of the hits of Essen 2018, and I’ve been eager to get it back to the table, which happened this past weekend.  As I said back at Essen, the card play— you’re choosing which projects to pursue, and building a tableau — is reminiscent of Terraforming Mars, but selecting the action spaces on the board is reminiscent of a worker placement game.  Mixing those two mechanics is brilliant, and the table I played with was enthusiastic about the game. 

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2 Responses to Chris Wray: What I Enjoyed Playing in February 2019…

  1. Pingback: Chris Wray: What I Enjoyed Playing in March 2019 | The Opinionated Gamers

  2. Pingback: Brandon Kempf: Three Games – Three Older Euros | The Opinionated Gamers

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